YMB #55 Story and the Redeemed Imagination: A Conversation with Andrew PetersonPin
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Andrew Peterson knows a thing or two about a good story and creativity. He is on the show today to talk about sharing both with your kids, his work with the Rabbit Room as a place for children’s authors to support one another and grow, and a little something he calls the redeemed imagination.

It’s a fascinating conversation with topics as diverse as C.S. Lewis, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Harry Potter. Enjoy!

Pam: This is Your Morning Basket, where we help you bring truth, goodness, and beauty to your homeschool day. Hi everyone and welcome to episode 55 of the, your morning basket podcast. I’m Pam Barnhill, your host, and I am so happy that you are joining me here today. We have such a fabulous show on tap for you. I am interviewing the wonderful Andrew Peterson. He is a music artist. He is a children’s author. He is so much more and he’s a homeschool dad. Our conversation covers everything from his work, with the Rabbit Room, his participation at the great homeschool conventions in 2019 and a little bit about creativity and something he calls the redeemed imagination. It’s a fun conversation. And I think you’re going to enjoy it right after this word from our sponsor. This Episode of your morning basket podcast is brought to you by Maestro classics. Would you like to bring classical music into your children’s lives? You can add classical music to your morning time today with Maestro classics. These award-winning CDs and MP3s feature storytellers Yondu and Jim Weiss accompanied by the world. Famous London Philharmonic orchestra, choose from a dozen titles, including Peter and the Wolf, the Nutcracker, and one of the Barnhill family favorites The story of Swan Lake.

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Andrew Peterson is a homeschool father of three, who makes his home with his wife, Jamie in a place they call the Warren just outside of Nashville. A songwriter with more than 10 albums to his credit, including his most recent Resurrection Letters, as well as the author of The Wingfeather Saga, a series of young adult fantasy adventure novels. Andrew is an artist who strives to use his creative gifts to tell of God’s love and his kingdom. Andrew is also the proprietor of the Rabbit Room, a Christ centered online community of artists, songwriters, and storytellers. Andrew, welcome to the program.
Hey, thanks for having me. Well, we are so happy that you are here. Will you tell us just a little bit about your family to get us started? Sure. I like him a lot.
My wife and I have been married for 23 years now and we have three kids. Two of them are graduated. So for any homeschoolers listening, it is possible. It does happen one day. We, we are, my, our oldest is a sophomore in college. Our next one down just graduated last spring and is full steam ahead in the music world.
He’s on the road right now, playing drums with a band. And then my daughter is a junior. And so, yeah, we’re still busy and kind of in the thick of it, but we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Very nice tunnel. It hasn’t been a bad tunnel, but we are, we are seeing like, empty-nesters on the horizon.
You’re getting ready to come out the other side. It’s so nice to hear from people who have kind of been there, done that and think, wow, okay, we can, we can finish this race.
Totally. I remember talking to Jamie about it. And she said that when she would go to homeschool conferences or whatever, she said that it was the thing she was most hungry for was not like the perfect curriculum. It was just older, you know, moms who had been there before looking at her and saying, it’s going to be okay. You know, don’t freak out. Yeah. So, so yeah, if we can be that voice to other people, then we’re happy to do so. Yeah. It’s just amazing. I just wanted to like carry because you know, when a homeschool dad says we homeschool, it’s kind of like a lot of times it’s like, when a husband says we’re pregnant, it’s like, well, you’re not pregnant, dude. Your wife is the pregnant one. And so Jamie has just like, like, you know, there’ve been a few times over the years when she’d be like, Hey, you want to be the literature teacher, the Bible teacher this year. And I’ll be like, Oh yeah, that would be great. I can’t wait. And I’ll be gung ho for like two weeks. And then I just completely fall off the wagon. Like it doesn’t, it doesn’t work. But so she is the diligent one who is, who has made it happen. And I’m so proud of her.
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And it’s so funny to hear you say that because homeschool moms struggle with that too. In about two weeks, sometimes we’re just ready to throw in the towel.
Oh man. I’m so I can’t imagine. Yeah. So, so the way our family is set up on the one who I’m on the road, you know, a lot of weekends I’m in and out a lot because of music and book stuff. And so, yeah, I’m sure there are homeschool dads out there who are the ones who take the helm to, you know, so, but I know in our family, it wouldn’t, our kids would just be like still playing with Play-Doh. If I was, if I was in charge.
Love it. Well, let’s talk a little bit about great homeschool convention and what you’re doing with them next year. This is exciting because I’m going to be at all seven. Are you going to be at all seven next year?
I think that I am like, I, at least most of them, I can’t remember it. Cause there’s a few where there’s like scheduling conflicts where I can only be there for part of it, but the rabbit room, which you mentioned earlier, the ministry ministry, that I’m a part of, we have a presence there. And so I get to kind of hang out with all the other authors that I’m grateful to be friends with and who I think are better than I am by a long shot.
But I think I’m doing concerts too. Like it’s, it’s on down the road. I’m not, I usually don’t know details until it’s upon me, but if it’s like, it was last year, I do a concert at night followed by a session the next day. And then I kinda sit in with the Rabbit Room track and talk about books and writing and all that kind of stuff with those guys.
So fun. Okay. So talk to me a little bit about the rabbit room. If we have some families who are listening to the podcast who aren’t familiar, what exactly is it and how did it get started? Yeah, that’s a great question. So the, the rabbit room was the name of the backroom of the pub and Oxford where CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien and their friends used to get together.
And so my first time in Oxford, which, you know, you kind of, if you’re a CS Lewis fan at all, you kind of have to go and room this legendary room where these guys used to share these stories together. And it’s just as awesome as you would expect it to be. The funny thing about it is that when you, once you get in the room, you realize that all of the people around you are also Americans because Americans geek out over CS Lewis more than Brits do, usually. And so anyway, I remember being struck by, by the fact that that Lewis and Tolkien and their friends got together. And one of the things that bound them together was their faith. But also it was this love of storytelling.
And it was, it was this chance for them to not just talk about books that they like to read, but talk about what they were creating. And, you know, as iron sharpens iron, like they were critiquing each other’s work and talking about poetry and this, this friendship ended up giving birth to these really powerful lasting works of literature that I think carry the truth of the gospel in them.
And so, so I got to thinking when I was there, I was so moved by that by the fact that it was friendship, you know what I mean? It was like, it was this kinship that these guys had with each other that then gave birth to better work, good work that, you know, so many of us have been affected by.
And so then I thought about our community back Nashville, which is very different from Oxford, but it’s like from a music standpoint, you know, I th I think that Nashville could hold its own musically against Oxford any day. Yeah. But I realized that part of the reason that I was able to stick to it, you know, like stay in the game of, of trying to tell stories and write songs and do this book was because of the friendships that I had made here. It was people that were also on the same journey who cheered me on when I felt discouraged. And then I’ve gotten to do the same thing for other people and encourage them that no, this work that we’re doing is it really does matter.
Like it, it changes people’s hearts and, and people’s hearts are vast and intricate and beautiful. And, and so, so it’s good, important work there we’re, we’re trying to do. And so anyway, the rabbit room was born out of that. It was like, well, let’s try to emulate some of the things that those Oxford guys were doing by putting a flag in the ground and saying, we’re going to really try to tell good stories. We’re going to pay attention to the way the Lord uses art and music and story to, to like smuggle his truth into our hearts. You know? And so, so the rabbit room grew over the last 10 years into this really beautiful ministry where we’re in the process of renovating a house here in Nashville, that will be kind of a, a meeting point, a gathering point for authors and songwriters. And there’s art. We’ve published about 25 books.
And a lot of those authors we’ve become really good friends, but also those friendships have nourished the work that we’re doing. And, and so, yes, there’s really fun community. We have a conference every year here in Nashville that is pretty special, a lot of spokes on the wheel, but that’s the rabbit room. So when we go to the homeschool convention, the rabbit room sets up a booth and we kind of share all of the work that we’re doing with people. And so I think one of the things that I’m proudest of when I, when I walk into that, the great homeschool convention exhibit hall, and I see the rabbit room, a booth set up, I just, I love that there’s so much attention put into the quality of the visual art, the actual texture of the books. You know, I love the fact that these are Christians who are writing books that I think you could find on the shelf at Barnes and Noble in the children’s section, you know?
And so, so it’s like the, you know, there’s a school of thought that is fine. People who were like, we need to write stories that are explicit explicitly Christian, and, you know, that are very obviously about the gospel, but then there’s another kind of story that I think the Lord of the Rings or the Chronicles of Narnia would fall into this category where you kids don’t have to be Christians. They could read it, but they could sense that there is some great beauty that is kind of hidden in, in the story. And those things are planting seeds for the gospel. And so, so that’s not the only thing we do, but some of it is like that. And some of it is, you know, books of poetry, prayers that are written.
There’s a book called Every Moment Holy. So it’s just this like, like if I was not a part of the rabbit room, I would want to be hanging out with these guys all the time. I just like, so admire the other writers. And so, yeah, it’s this sweet community and we’re thankful to get to share it with the, with the folks at the conference.
I love it. I love that. It’s all about, you know, building up this community and the iron sharpening iron that’s something. I work with a group called Schole sisters that we try to do for moms who are educating in the classical Charlotte Mason tradition or any homeschool mom who wants to join us. And I just love that because I know that being around those women have made me such a better homeschool mom.
And so the idea that you’re writing, you know, to get these truths out there and you’re, you’re surrounding yourself with these people who are also doing the same good work. It just, I love that. I think it’s a great example. Yeah. I think the, the, the idea of there’s this myth of the solitary author, who is in a corner and is, you know, sips his coffee and never really interacted with other people. I just think that’s bogus. Like the way the church works is that I, I dunno, I, I feel like God gave us each other and there’s something really special, kind of hard, almost hard to articulate that happens just when you’re in the same vicinity, when you’re in a relationship with other people who are committed to not just, you know, how do I put it? Like not just writing stories in order to make a point, you know, it’s not just didactic stuff. It’s like, we believe that that story has this great power, like to do a lot more than just, you know, what would happen if you, if you handed somebody a tract or said anything, it’s like, no, there’s actually, the kids are going out into the world and they’re going to be encountering. All kinds of stories are in movies and comic books and the novels that they’re going to be reading all this kind of stuff. So why should Christians not be involved in the same thing?
Yeah, I love it. I love it. I was having a great conversation last week about what makes a book, a living book. And one of the points that was made about these kinds of moralistic stories is that they only have one idea, but a real living book is a book that has lots of ideas and whatever that kernel of gospel truth that you’re trying to get across. It might be stated blatantly in there, but it’s just part of a whole bunch of ideas that it can make you think about.
And yeah, that was, that really kind of struck me as like, yeah, we need these multi-layered books that make us think lots of thoughts, not just one thought
Right. And stories that stand on their own, you know, like that are just great stories that don’t have to be, you know, have I remember with The Wingfeather Saga, the, the novels that I’ve written my goal with those books was to try to tell like, just the best story that I possibly could, like having grown up reading, you know, everything from Harry, not Harry Potter, the Hobbit to tale of two cities, to a treasure Island and all this stuff all the way to Sherlock Holmes and the Hardy boys, I just was like, how can I tell a story that will just make a twelve-year-old kid want to keep reading? And then, because I am happy to be a Christian, I don’t have to try to force moralistic messages into the thing. I can just tell a great story. And then because of what I believe is the indwelling Holy Spirit, like he is gonna do what he wants with this story. You know what I mean?
So not that you don’t have an agenda, is that the agenda, it doesn’t Trump, the quality of the writing or the story that’s happening there. And so that way that it becomes something way more than what you think that it is. You know what I mean? Like the coolest emails I get from people or conversations with kids, or when they tell me, you know, this is what your book meant to me. And it’s something that I didn’t intend at all, but like, you, you know, you get, you hold loosely to your agenda or your whatever message you’re trying to convey. Not that you don’t have like a theme or, or some you’re not leaning on these things. I mean, you are leaning on these things, but you’re allowing the story room to breathe and to become something that is greater than, than you can do on your own.
Right. And because you’re a Christian, I mean, you don’t end up writing, you know, you end up writing a Christian story simply because you’re Christian and that’s who you are and that’s how you live. And so you don’t, you don’t have to hammer it into every single little piece of it. It’s going to kind of be there. I love that indwelling of the Holy spirit references.
I think when I was a 12 year old kid, if somebody gave me some book that I, I could sniff out the fact that the author was trying to trick me or, you know, get a Sunday school type point across, I just wouldn’t have been interested. You know, I just, it would shut me down, which, you know, brings us to the wonderful CS Lewis quote about how he said, then, you know that, why was it so hard? He said something like, why was it so hard for me to feel the way I was,
I thought I ought to feel about certain doctrinal truths or scriptural truths. It was all associated with Sunday school and stained glass windows. So he said, what if I could recast that story in a way that would, that would show people the true wonder and the true, the glory of, of the story of the crucifixion and the resurrection, and do it in a way that would sneak past people’s watchful dragons.
And then, so that, that was his goal with the Narnia books was like, I’m just going to try to tell the story and make it as good of a story as I can. And that way it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s allowing the truth to do what it will with the people who read it. So anyways, I think that’s one way that the Rabbit Room philosophically stands out in those situations.
And so it’s not like nobody else is doing that, but I’m really excited about the fact that that’s, that’s the way the authors tend to think.
Yeah. And they’re such good books too. So that’s what makes them fun. Well, we’ve touched on this so much already, but it, especially with the, the literary side of it, but can you talk a little bit about how you see the role of the arts in the work of the kingdom and, and living out the gospel. And maybe since we’ve talked about it on the literary side already, maybe touch a little bit on the music side.
Sure. It’s a good, it’s a good question. I, I just have, I have a book coming out next year called Adorning the Dark.That’s the working title. It may not be end up being called that, but, but it’s, it’s thoughts on community and creativity and the mystery of making, and it’s, it’s just sort of a meditation or a memoir about the creative process and what it’s like to be a Christian who’s trying to serve in this way. And just as a way of encouraging other people out there who are trying to try to find their way through the same dark forest of creativity.
And, and so anyway, I think I’m always mystified, to be honest with you when, when, when people are not sure about how the gospel and the arts work together, because the gospel is like at its root, a work of art, you know, like there’s a, there’s a sense, at least in which God is a storyteller, like all of, you know, it was, it was a light bulb went on for me when I was in Bible college and this Old Testament survey class that I was taken when I realized that that the old Testament was just as much about Jesus as the New Testament was he was the central character in this thing. And I began to realize that one of the best ways to understand the whole Bible was to understand it as a story that God is telling with all of history.
And for that matter, I think all of creation is a story that God is telling. And, and, you know, and I, I think it’s kind of feels crazy to me that we don’t take fiction seriously, for example, like we have, I’ve talked to people at the homeschool convention before who were like, why should I read fiction? It’s like, well, Jesus told stories like Jesus, you know, in a sense he wrote fiction in the parables. Story is a way of understanding what is true, that, that you can’t understand in any other way. And one of the, my favorite quotes, I don’t know who said it, but is if you want someone to know the truth, tell them. If you want someone to love the truth,
tell them a story. And so I believe that’s what Jesus was doing with the parables. I think that’s why the gospel itself is a story of redemption. It’s like our own lives may be best understood as stories. And so God has been like, art has been pretty closely intertwined with the church for thousands of years, some of the best, you know, I ruffles my feathers a little bit when people say that Christian art is bad because I want to say, well, which, which part are you talking about? Because I think about Michaeangelo and the Sistine chapel or Bach, or, you know, or CS Lewis are talking like the Christians have zero reason to be embarrassed about the art that we’re making until you start thinking about the last 50 years or so.
You know, and even then it’s only the most popular stuff. It’s like, there’s always been this undercurrent of Christians who are really dedicated to writing beautiful poems, painting, beautiful paintings. And so the church and the church for that matter, I think has incubated some of the best art that has ever been known.
And just as a tiny example, the, I dunno if you’ve ever watched American idol, but like maybe eight years ago, there was a season of my, my wife and I got addicted to, and we watched it and I was so, so struck by how many of the really great singers on American idol when they would ask, how did you learn to sing? They would say, Oh, I sing. I learned to sing in church, singing in choir or whatever. So it’s like, the church is already doing this work. So I think that maybe there’s been a slow broadening over the last several years of the church’s understanding of what exactly that means. It’s like, how can we, you know, there, there needs to be a seat, a seat at the table for accountants in the church and for architects in the church, but also for kids who like to read sci fi fantasy novels, you know, th there, there needs to be this, like, I think beautiful welcoming of the people in all of the facets of their gifting, because all of these things can be, can be commandeered by the Lord to tell his own story.
You know what I mean? And so, anyway, so from a musical standpoint, years ago, when I first got into it, I didn’t like Christian music. I thought it was all cheesy. And I was into hair metal, which is ironic because hair metal was like the cheesiest thing in the world. But, I didn’t see any real way forward as an artist.
I was like, well, I mean, either I’m a Christian, either I’m in the ministry, which means that I need to be a missionary or a pastor, but neither of those things sound fun because what I really love is stories with sword fights and music with electric guitars. And, you know, really like I was into comic books at the time. And so I just assumed that there was never any room for me in ministry.
And so, so slowly beginning to realize that, Oh, no, like all of these things can be used and can be draw attention to the, to the beauty of the gospel. And so for, for music, for me, it was, it was encountering the music of Rich Mullins who you guys listening may not remember him, but he was, he was Mitt. I think the greatest modern songwriter, the church has known, he wrote our God is an awesome God. And it’s my least favorite time is, but he was, he was wonderful. And, and when I heard his music and I realized, Oh, you can, you can be poetic and you can be literate and you can, you can not have to be perfectly slick. Like his voice was kind of raspy and, and imperfect. And I was like, Oh, so there, there’s a way to, to use my gifts like this and can still minister to people. So I dunno, I just think that there’s a beautiful relationship between gospel and art. And, and to be honest, I think the church sees it. Like, I, I don’t run into a lot of people these days who, who contest that anymore.
I love it. Okay. So you’ve touched on something that I wanted to ask you about today and you know, something for the homeschool parents out there. We often get hung up on thinking about all of the books that our kids should be reading or audio books that they should be listening to. The classics are the great books yet. You’ve admitted here that, you know, you kind of had an obsession with pulp fantasy books or comic books, or, yeah. You know, you even mentioned Harry Potter earlier, and though I’m going to call you on that. You were a little too old to have read him as a child.
But I loved him as a grownup.
Oh yeah, me too. So, you know, what, what do you think kids should read or have read to them? Can we sometimes find truth, beauty and goodness in these unexpected places?
Man, I, I totally think so. Well for starters, I mean reading the wing feathers saga, obviously, I mean, that’s after the start I actually did when I went some of my most precious memories as a dad were the nights when we were all into a book together. When, you know, we read Watership Down together and all the Narnia books together, and I read them The Wingfeather Saga while I was writing them. And it just, as an aside, I’m, I’m joking by The Wingfeather Saga, but not really, but the, but I wrote the chapters, all the chapters in the wing, feather saga are super short. They’re like three pages long because as a family, you know, when we were reading the Lord of the Rings, my goodness, I would just be, I would look, you know, the feeling it’s like, it’s 10:30 at night and your kids are sleeping, but you’ve got to get through a chapter and you realize there are 60 pages. So I just was like, I want to make it as easy on parents as possible. And they’re super short, but I would say obviously like as much as possible read altogether. And, and to me that the most important thing about that is not necessarily the books that you’re reading.
It’s the fact that your family is together and you’re experiencing story. Some of our most precious times as a family were we’re when we would always pray before bed. And so the kids would, you know, it’d be we’re homeschoolers. So our kids would go to bed late and they would all come into the living room together and we’d say, all right, let’s pray. We would pray. And they didn’t want to go to bed. So we would just kind of sit there and talk for another 90 minutes, you know? And it was wonderful. It’s like some of our best conversations were had in the context of sitting around and reading a book late at night when the kids don’t want to go to bed yet.
And so what we were reading is almost secondary to the thing. It’s something else that’s happening in that moment, you know? But, but the other part is that it, it just shows your children, that books are valuable. It’s like good stories matter. So when I was a kid, my dad’s a pastor. So his office was jammed with theology books, you know, and smelled good in there. And I was mainly in there when I was getting a spanking, but, but, but I do remember that he, he valued books. He was always reading. But then when we came home, I would look on the bookshelves and there was Lord of the Rings and, and Tom Sawyer and tale of two cities.
And, and it wasn’t like we always read those books, but I just always took for granted that that books were good things that they mattered. And so that’s all bringing me to this point, which is that my oldest son is just the, is the bookworm of the family. Like he, he could just constantly reading he’s in college now.
And he still calls me and says, what do I read next? And, and I just can’t wait to that. I was like, Oh gosh, read this novel. You know, and he’ll read it in three days, you know? And so my second son was the kid who got into Goosebumps Were those books. They were like The worst written books ever.
And, and, you know, they’re like creepy monster stories and stuff. And I wasn’t crazy about it. I, you know, you start out trying to read what your kids are reading to kind of make sure that their weather is good, but I couldn’t bring myself to read these books. I just didn’t like him, but he just gobbled them up.
Like at the library, he wouldn’t even check them out. He would just go and read them. And there was a sense in which I gathered Over the years, that, that he, I didn’t want him to feel like I was disappointed in him for what he was reading. You know what I mean? I didn’t want him to feel like I was comparing him to my oldest who was the real bookworm.
Like our goal is not to foist books on our kids so that they start to hate them or they start to resent them or do they start to think, well, I’m just not good enough because they don’t like to read the same kind of books that you do. I have a hunch that, that everybody’s probably a reader. They just don’t know what kind of, they haven’t found the books that they love to read yet. You know? So there may be a kid who out there whose parents are like, Oh, I’m a failure because my kid isn’t reading the Narnia books, but they might burn through some book about World War II. You know what I mean? And so, so I just decided when my kid was in high school, I was like, you know what? I like grabbed him by the shoulders and looked him in the eye. And I was like, man, you, I love who you are. And if you never read another book, I would not change the way that I feel about you. You are doing so many other creative things. He’s way into music.
He’s a music producer. He’s, he’s so great. So it’s like books, aren’t the point? The point is, does he know that the Lord loves him? Does it, does, are there, are there intersections in his life between the things that move him and, and the gospel. And so, so that, that was my thing. Like, I can feel in the homeschooling world, like, there’s this pressure that if my kid isn’t a big reader, then I’ve, I’ve dropped the ball somehow or whatever. And I just don’t think that’s fair. And I’ve met a lot of people who were like, will tell me, you know, I met a guy there’s a band mate of mine. Who’s reading Dostoevsky on the tour.
And I was like, Oh man, I didn’t know you were a reader. And he was like, yeah, I just started reading like two years ago, he’s a grownup. And he hated books as a kid, but he was like one day the light bulb switched on and he just started gobbling up Russian novelists, you know? So anyway, I don’t know if that’s helpful or not, but I just, I just think it’s important to not feed your kids, your vegetables, but give them sweets now. And then
Yeah. Yeah. Well, I think it is helpful because I think it, it takes pressure off of homeschool moms who do feel a lot of pressure about things like this, you know? And so I think it’s really helpful. My son went to the library the other day and he’s like, mom, I need to go look for a book. I’m like, okay, what are you looking for? And he’s like, Oh, I got to go find a Minecraft book. I’m like, Oh great. Yay.
Because it’s like, all right, that’s okay. He’s on a journey. And your kids will, will. Yeah. Books. Aren’t the most important thing, but they’re awesome. And it was funny the time my daughter hadn’t hadn’t read my books. Like she would talk to friends at school who were like, Oh, your dad, I love, I just finished his fourth book. And it’s so cool. Like, you’re one of the characters is based on her.
And she was like, yeah, I haven’t read them yet. She has now. But there was a season where I was like, are you serious? Your dad’s an author and you haven’t read the books, but it was a joke. You know, it was kind of a fun, funny conversation as opposed to like any kind of resentment, because I just had to like set them free to kind of like gravitate toward the things that were going to light them up. And so my job as a dad is to kind of fan that flame.
Yeah. And they did, and they all turned out fine. So there you go. You write about the redeemed imagination. What do you mean by that?
Well, one of the ways that I put it as the, the integrated imagination too, like where, where, like I said, as a kid, I was, I was really drawn to books that my parents were super suspicious of, you know, and, and same thing with music. Like in the eighties, everybody thought that rock music was, you know, the worst thing you can do to your soul. And it was all evil. They were all devil worshipers. And I just couldn’t get my head around it.
I didn’t, I didn’t understand it because what I was listening to wasn’t, you know, it was like, I’m sure there’s bad stuff out there. I’m not saying you should just listen to everything. But sometimes it was like, well, no, this is just a really beautiful song. And can the Lord not use that, you know, to draw me to himself.
And so, so the, the weird sacred secular divide is a Gnostic thing. And Gnosticism is this insidious poisonous heresy. You know, that divides our imagination between things that are spiritual and things that are earthy or whatever it may be. And I think that that kind of slips into our sense of the arts or books or whatever it may be.
Like our imaginations are one of the ways that we were created in God’s image. And there is a way to corrupt that, but creativity I should say is not inherently a bad thing, obviously. So, so anyway, it was just like realizing there’s a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins called God’s Grandeur.
And it’s one of the most beautiful poems that I think in the English language. And he was like Irish, British Irish priest in the 1800’s. And, it starts off the world is charged with the grandeur of God. And he goes on to just describe how, how the world is just oozing with God’s presence and the beauty of God.
And yet I’m not a Catholic, but that’s a very Catholic way of looking at the world that the world is a sacrament. That, that, it’s kind of one of the things that in the liturgy that in is heaven and earth are full of your glory. The Psalmist says that. And so if that’s true, if heaven and earth are full of God’s glory, then there is no corner. There is no molecule of the universe there. How is it, David Dark is an author and he says, there’s not one secular molecule of the universe. All of it belongs to the Lord. And so, so kind of like reintegrating my imagination, realizing that you can, you can, rather than living this sequestered, fearful life where everything is a potential corrupter, maybe we live lives of boldness and courage. And we say, even in the darkest corner, God’s truth can, can shine. You know? And so with wisdom, obviously, like, hopefully that’s, that’s clear that, that I’m not suggesting that we just, you know, gobble up whatever, without any wisdom. But, one of the ways that I like to think about it is that there’s the movie, Oh, Brother Where Art Thou by the Coen brothers movie with George Clooney in it. And my friend Ron Block is a banjo player and he’s in the movies in the background. So there’s this big scene where George Clooney is singing. I’m a man of constant sorrow. And, and if you pause the TV at the right moment, you can see my friend, Ron, in the background with this big goofy outfit on and he’s playing the banjo. And so if I’m like at somebody’s house and that movie’s on, I’ll say, Oh, by the way, my friends in this movie and we’ll sit and watch it until he shows up. And I think that’s kind of a, a picture of the way that a healthy way to look at the arts is I believe that Jesus has kind of haunting all of it, like the truth shows up in the most unlikely places.
And so, so I think it’s a good exercise to go. I’m going to keep my eyes peeled for where the Lord is speaking in this situation and that situation and this work of art or that work of art, and look for ways that, that God has commandeered it, or ways that where the author may not even be a Christian and are telling the truth without meaning to, and to help my kids then. So to see that in the world, you know what I mean? It kind of readies them for moving out into the world in a way that keeps their eyes open for God. And so does that answer the question?
Oh yeah. And I love it. I love so much the idea of living from a place where you’re constantly looking for God in everything, then living from a place of fear where you’re hiding from everything, because you think it might not have God.
So Yeah. So again, like, you know, that’s the kind of thing I always have to be super careful depending on my audience, because I’m not at all saying like, go watch the Exorcist. You know, I’m saying like, don’t be afraid.
Like if you’re a Christian, then you have the Holy spirit in you. You have this discernment, you have your community. And within those confines, you can experience some really beautiful work and, and, and learn some things about who God is from unlikely places. And I think, you know, Harry Potter is a great example of where a place where I think the church kind of dropped the ball that, that American Christians in particular just got in such a fury about those books. When, you know, JK Rowling’s was, is Anglican. And that can mean a lot of different things, but she was explicitly telling a Christian story, like she intended to use Christian imagery and a story about resurrection and about the power of sacrificial love over evil.
And like there’s so much good in those books, not to say that there’s nothing bad in them, but there’s also a lot of really good, powerful things that, you know, what I imagine is what happens if a kid who grew up in the who’s not a Christian read those books and wept at the end, right? Has this picture in their hearts, seared into their imagination of the power of sacrificial love, to conquer death and to conquer evil. And then they, they, they, then that plants the seeds that would then later, whenever they encounter the gospel of Jesus, they go, wait a minute. I’ve seen this before, but like, this feels familiar to me. And somebody can say, you know what? Jesus is actually the fulfillment of everything that your heart was longing for. When you were reading the Harry Potter books, Jesus is the fulfillment and the completion and the Mo the most beautiful picture of, of what it is that was waking up in your heart when you were reading this book or that book, rather than saying, those books are evil and they’re of the devil, and they’re going to ruin your soul.
I actually wrote a piece called Jesus, Harry Potter, and me that was posted, and it’s still the most viewed and shared article that we’ve ever had. And most of it was really positive. And I got some people who were pretty mad at me about coming out, so to speak as a Harry Potter fan and a Christian, but there were a few people came up to me or wrote me in tears and said that they were weeping because they were new Christians. And that they had, they had felt like God was drawing them closer to himself through certain aspects of these stories that they’d loved. But then once they were in the church, Christians were telling them those things were all evil and they were so confused.
They were so like, what, what was that then? You know, why is it evil for me to experience this thing in this way? So anyway, all that to say, maybe your conscience, won’t let you read those books, and that’s fine, but you also have to make room for the grace of the fact that, that other people may, may encounter the real, like thundering truth of the gospel and places like that.
Oh, interesting. So let’s switch gears from Harry Potter to Wingfeather, where do you get your ideas for all the strange creatures and this intricate of the world that you’ve developed for these novels?
Part of it was my kids. There’s a few ways to answer that question. Probably it was just like trying to make my kids laugh. You know, one of the things that I’m so drawn to, and like, you know, the Star Wars universe or the Lord of the Rings is just the fact that you feel like you’re in this world that you don’t want to leave, you know, and the book is over or the movies over. And, and then part of it, and this is an idea that I got from N.D. Wilson,
Nate, Wilson, this other author who wrote the 100 cupboard series and a bunch of other great books, but he talks about how, if you want to know how to write a good story, pay attention to the great storyteller. Like if you’re familiar with your Bible, then, and then if God uses something as a literary device, then it’s like him giving you a thumbs up to say, yes, go and do. Likewise, this is a good way to tell a story. And so when I was trying to build the world of The Wingfeather Saga, like, you know, I kept running into walls story-wise like, I’d write a few chapters and then I’d hit something. And I realized, I didn’t know how to answer certain questions.
For example, Janner Igiby in the very beginning of the first book, he goes to the annual dragon day festival in his little town, and he’s going to buy a Sugarberry bond from a merchant. And I realized that I didn’t know what kind of money he used. I was like, wait, does, how does he pay for it?
Does he pay for it with coins? And if it’s a coin, is there a face on it? And if there’s a face on it, who is it? Is it he King or a governor or an emperor. And if there’s coins, that means there’s a mint somewhere. And what does that mean about the, what, you know, what exists in this world? And if he’s using jewels, where did they get the jewels or their mines? So, anyway, it just kind of made me realize that, like I had a lot of homework to do before I could tell the story, I had to build the world first, which if you want to know how God began, the great story of his redemption, of his, of his people, he started by building a world. He said, let there be light. And he drew a map, so to speak. And he populated that world with all manner of crazy creatures and beauties and, you know, landscapes. And, and so I was like, okay, so that’s where you start. If you’re writing fantasy, then you gotta, you say, let there be light and you draw a map and you decide where the mountains are going to go. And then you fill the woods with creatures. And, and so that’s kind of where that, that came from. It was just like letting my imagination run wild almost literally. And, and trying to emulate my creator by saying before I can tell a story, I’ve got to, I’ve got to build the world that the story is going to happen.
Oh, that’s, I love it. I love it. So, yeah. And it sounds like you probably had a lot of fun with that whole process. Oh, man. I loved it so much. My kids would email me funny words that I put in like a word document.
So if I ever needed an, a name for, for an animal or a monster, I could just like refer to this list of funny names that my kids had to come up with. It was a blast.
Oh, good. Okay. So here’s a question I have for, does your background as a songwriter influence your work as a writer of novels?
Yes. In a way that might, might surprise you? I think at its core, the creative process is very similar between all the different disciplines, like a painter and a novelist and a songwriter. We all start with, with the spirit hovering over the waters of the deep there’s, there’s nothing, there there’s a blank piece of paper or a blank canvas or, or my guitar and the same chords that I feel like I’ve always played. And I just can’t think of anything new or good. So there’s a lot of similarity in that way. But I think the biggest thing that happened was that having written a bunch of songs and gone into the studio and had to learn that the hard work of turning a song,
you wrote on the guitar into something that has piano and drums and, and orchestra and background vocals, building it all into the thing. And then, you know, doing the work of packaging it and then sending it out into the world and promoting it and like playing the songs live like it’s this, you know, making an album is, is the romance of just going into the studio is only the tiniest part of,
of the real works. It’s kind of like getting married. The honeymoon is only the smallest part of it. And so, so when I sat down to write my first book, I had sort of, I had learned the discipline of art. You know what I mean? I learned that art is work, that it’s not this fun thing, that there are days when you don’t feel like it, but you just have to do it anyway. There’s days when you completely feel uninspired as a songwriter. Days when I think I have nothing more to offer, but I’ve got to sit here with my guitar because I have to be in the studio next week, you know? And so that’s, that’s the muscle that I had been exercising as a songwriter and as a musician, so that when I sat down to write a book, I wasn’t so surprised when I hit the walls or when I felt uninspired or when I was like, I don’t know where this thing’s going. I kind of was like, Oh, I’ve been here before. I know how this works. This is, this is like, when I made my last album and all I have to do is show up and I’ve got to keep working.
I’ve got to keep, you know, go through a large pile of really bad ideas before I get to the good ones. So I think there’s a lot of correlation in that way.
I love that. That’s the point you brought up because we have a lot of kids who listened to the podcast. And I think sometimes when they think about people who are writing songs or people who are writing these books, that they love to read, they think that it must be easy somehow. Yeah. I teach homeschool writing classes. And though the thing that everybody hates most is the rewrite, the editing. So I love that. That’s the message you’re sending there is that, you know, sometimes you just gotta get up and do it, whether you feel like it any way.
Yeah, I think so. One of the things that I, when I speak to students, I make sure that I always say your teachers are right, that you have to, you have to revise. Nobody’s first try is their best work. Like, you know, Tiger Woods was not a good golfer. The first time he picked up a club, you know what I mean?
And so, so you’ve got to learn to revise. But when I first sent my first manuscript, I had edited it like four times because I was so nervous. I didn’t want them to regret having signed me to a book deal. So I was trying to make my first book as good as I could. I sent it to them and I waited for weeks while the editor was working on her fixes.
And when I finally got that word document back, it was so painful. I opened it up and every single page was just splashed with red. It was, it was violent, so to speak. And so I, I remember just being like, Oh, every sentence, here’s all my look, bad habits and bad descriptions and you know, things that I had to do.
But by like, by like, you know, 10 pages of that, I began to see already that, Oh man, the book has already so much better than it was before. And so now the editing process is my favorite part. Like the, the writing of the story. The first time, the first draft is the real miserable work. The fun part is taking this thing, this lump of clay, and then turning it into something beautiful.
I love all of this conversation about creativity and the creative process. So do you have any ideas for how we can foster an atmosphere in our homes and our family life in our homeschool where each member of the family is using his or her gifts in a way that reflects the goodness of God? Can you tell us maybe how that’s worked in your family?
Sure. It’s, it’s been, it was really, it’s been such a gratifying thing to see my kids gravitate naturally toward the thing that they love. And, you know, I was, I was really nervous about, I didn’t want them to feel pressure to be musicians, you know? So all of them had like, you know, my boys had like six months of violin when they were the little, my daughter took a little bit of piano lessons, but as soon as they were like crying about it right or wrong, I was just like, Jamie, let’s not, let’s not push it on them. I don’t want them to feel any pressure to be me. You know?
And so instead I just like that. That’s one side of it. The other side of it is that I did leave instruments laying around, you know what I mean? I would leave my guitar out. I have this weird thing about, I can’t stand when a piano lid is closed. I think a piano lid should always be open because why would you close it? Like, it’s not going to really change how the piano plays that much. But, but when the kids pass the piano, you can hear them go up and hit the keys. And a lot of times you’ll hear them stop and turn around and go back to the piano and kind of like start to goof around on it, you know? And so we kind of like left a lot of stuff out. Like we, if my kids started to doodle, I would like suddenly a sketchpad would appear in his bedroom and some paint brushes. And I would just kinda like let them create an environment where the arts were valued or, or whatever they were into was valued. And if they, if they found it, then I would just try to fan that flame. And, and it worked is the thing like now all three of my kids are, my daughter is a songwriter and she’s put out her first record last year and is called to Tell Me Again, her name is Sky Peterson. So if you guys out there listening, want to hear a 15 year old girls music, it’s just lovely. And my other son ended up going into music production. My oldest son is an animation student. Like he studied with a former Disney guy right now. And, and so they all kind of just like found the thing that lit them up. And what we tried to do is just create a context in which they could see that the, like I said earlier, there’s a place at the table in the church for you.
The church that we go to now is a pretty small church. And so when my daughter was, I think, 12, the song leader invited her to sit in and start playing piano. And when my oldest was 13, they were like, you want to play drums, play drums. And my oldest son who’s played some music, but he’s mainly an artist. Like the pastor said, will you paint me a painting that goes with my sermon next month? And then the day of the sermon, he held the painting up for the congregation, passed it around while he was preaching. And it was, I was just weeping.
I was sitting in the back, just weeping thinking how beautiful it was that the church was saying, we see you, we see the gift that you’ve been given. And we want you to know that we value it. And that, that we see that God is using you in this way. And so I think that’s the thing is like, you just, you look for the thing that lights up your kid and you just fan the flame brighter.
Andrew, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today. It’s been a fun conversation, a wonderful conversation. You always get, you gave me so much to think about that. I haven’t really given a lot of thought to before.
I love it when that happens.
Well, we will see you next year at the great homeschool conventions. And I hope to come up and get to meet you in person. Then That sounds awesome. I can’t wait. Those things are so fun.
Tell everybody where they can find you online before we go. Sure. If you, if you want to know more about the rabbit room, you can just go to rabbitroom.com. And my website is andrew-peterson.com. Don’t you have to put the hyphen in because the other Andrew Peterson writes like espionage, thriller, novels. And so people, people have actually emailed me and said, man, there’s a lot of violence in your books. I’m like, wait, what are you talking about? So, so make sure you include the hyphen and then yeah, that’s probably the best. And you can go to Wing Feather Saga.com to find out about the movie that we’re making and more about The Wingfeather Saga
And all the wonderful creatures in those books as well. So, well, thank you. I appreciate it.
Thank you so much.
And there you have it. Now, if you would like links to any of the books and resources that Andrew and I talked about on today’s episode of the podcast, you can find them on the show notes for this episode. Those are pambarnhill.com/ YMB55. We have links to the Rabbit Room to Andrew’s own site. You can find out more information about The Wingfeather Saga there, and also to the great homeschool conventions where you can see both Andrew and myself in 2019, we would love to see you there. Tickets are on sale now. We’ll be back in a couple of weeks with another great year, morning basket interview until then keep seeking truth, goodness and beauty In your homeschool day.

Links and Resources from Today’s Show

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (The Wingfeather Saga)PinOn the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (The Wingfeather Saga)North! Or Be Eaten (The Wingfeather Saga)PinNorth! Or Be Eaten (The Wingfeather Saga)The Monster in the Hollows (Wingfeather Saga)PinThe Monster in the Hollows (Wingfeather Saga)The Warden and the Wolf King (Wingfeather Saga)PinThe Warden and the Wolf King (Wingfeather Saga)Every Moment HolyPinEvery Moment HolyThe Hobbit and the Lord of the RingsPinThe Hobbit and the Lord of the RingsA Tale of Two CitiesPinA Tale of Two CitiesTreasure IslandPinTreasure IslandSherlock Holmes: The Complete CollectionPinSherlock Holmes: The Complete CollectionThe Chronicles of NarniaPinThe Chronicles of NarniaWatership DownPinWatership DownThe Adventures of Tom SawyerPinThe Adventures of Tom SawyerThe Classic Goosebumps SeriesPinThe Classic Goosebumps SeriesHarry Potter Complete Book Series Special Edition Boxed SetPinHarry Potter Complete Book Series Special Edition Boxed SetThe 100PinThe 100

 

Key Ideas about Story and the Redeemed Imagination

  • God is the ultimate storyteller. All of creation tells the story of God’s love for us. In so much as a story is telling about goodness, truth and beauty, it is planting seeds of the Gospel. As a result, truth, beauty and goodness can be found in many unexpected places. Sometimes, the seeds of the Gospel will be present in secular arts and it will lead people to Christ. As Christians, it is important to recognize those experiences as legitimate encounters with seeds of the Gospel or we risk ostracizing those who have found God through them.
  • Andrew shares openly about what he calls the redeemed or integrated imagination. Gnosticism is a heresy that seeks to divide the world into things that are spiritual and things that are earthy. In many ways, this ideology is still continuing in Christian circles that want to divide artistic pursuits in this way also. As a result, some Christians hide from all things secular in an attempt to protect themselves from the things of the world. But Andrew believes that Christians, with the help of the Holy Spirit that lives in them, should be able to approach the things of the world with discernment and engage with them and find God present.
  • Andrew also shares some tips on how to foster creativity in our homeschools. In the episode he shares how he would not pressure his children into playing instruments, but he did pay close attention to the things they enjoyed and he fanned the flames by providing materials necessary for the things they took interest in. Leaving instruments around, making sure art supplies were easily accessible, and letting children explore the things that they were passionate about are great ways for us to encourage our children to pursue the arts without the pressure.

Find What you Want to Hear

  • 3:05 meet Andrew Peterson
  • 6:15 Andrew talks about The Rabbit Room
  • 17:25 role of arts in living the Gospel
  • 23:35 finding truth, beauty and goodness in unexpected places
  • 30:50 the redeemed imagination
  • 38:25 Andrew shares his inspiration for the Wingfeather Saga characters
  • 41:30 how songwriting influenced storytelling
  • 45:40 fostering creativity in our homeschools
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